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Goal!: The Dream Begins

Rated PG, 118 min. Directed by Danny Cannon. Starring Kuno Becker, Anna Friel, Alessandro Nivola, Stephen Dillane, Marcel Iures, Sean Pertwee, Kieran O'Brien.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 12, 2006

Goal!: The Dream Begins Despite employing every cliché in the sports-movie handbook, Goal!: The Dream Begins tells a reasonably engaging story about the rags-to-riches rise of a rec-league soccer player in East L.A. to the glory of playing for England's Manchester United. Though it's not the first movie to be set within the world of professional soccer, it's the first to almost seem like a promotional tool for FIFA, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (not to mention Adidas, whose logos are featured prominently on the players' uniforms). Mexican TV hottie Becker stars as Santiago Munez, and appears in virtually every scene of the movie after the opening sequence in which the character is shown with his family as a child, carrying his precious soccer ball as he crosses the border during the middle of the night from Mexico to California. Fast-forward 10 years and we find Santiago working two jobs and playing soccer in his off-time. He has a natural athletic ability and dreams of going into something other than the lawn-maintenance business his father stubbornly insists is his son's lot in life. Then, in the first of the film's many moments of strained credulity, Santiago is spotted by the former player and talent scout Glen Foy (Dillane), who just happens to be in the right place at the right time, and gets Santi the promise of a professional tryout with just one phone call and urges him to come to England. Faster than you can holler, "Goal," illegal immigrant Santi is slipping back into Mexico to catch a flight to London, using pin money saved up by his supportive grandma. Later, when his tryout proves disastrous, Santi is awarded the first of numerous second chances. This forward-backward motion sometimes makes for an awkward narrative progression, and makes it look like this young man's success is due more to lucky breaks than hard work and innate talent. Though there are brief off-field cameos by several soccer stars – among them David Beckham, Alan Shearer, Raúl González Blanco, and Zinedine Zidane – the action on the field won't be enough to sate the most soccer-crazed viewers. Tasty turns by Nivola as the spoiled sports star and Friel as the obligatory love interest help buoy the film, and the photogenic Becker also performs solidly. Goal! The Dream Begins was conceived by its makers as the first part of a trilogy, in which case they brought the right director on board. Cannon, whose last film was I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, is someone who knows his way around a rehash.
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